Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Woman whose father killed her mother and brother 17 years apart for their life insurance recalls the chilling moment her dad ‘grinned like a Cheshire cat’ and told her: ‘They haven’t caught me yet and they’re not going to’

  • Karl Karlsen’s daughters Erin DeRoche and Kati Reynolds spoke to ABC News’ 20/20 for the two-hour special ‘The Sins of the Father,’ which airs on Friday 
  • Their mother, Christina Karlsen, and brother, Levi Karlsen, were killed by their father nearly two decades apart for their life insurance money 
  • DeRoche recalled confronting her father about the murders and him telling her they weren’t going to catch him after 22 years 
  • In February, Karlsen, 60, was found guilty of first-degree murder by arson for setting the fire that killed his then-wife and the mother of his children, Christina 
  • He was already serving a 15-years-to-life sentence for the 2008 murder of his 23-year-old son Levi, who died after a truck fell on him while he was doing repairs  
  • Levi’s death, like his mother’s, was initially ruled an accident 

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Karl Karlsen’s daughter has recalled the chilling conversation she had with her father after he killed her mother and brother 17 years apart for insurance money, saying he was confident he wouldn’t get caught. 

Sisters Erin DeRoche and Kati Reynolds have spoken out about the tragic loss of their mother, Christina Karlsen, and brother, Levi Karlsen, and how their father nearly got away with the murders on ABC News’ 20/20 special, ‘The Sins of the Father,’ which airs on Friday. 

‘He was trying to convince me he never would have killed our brother, he never would have killed our mom, and I just listened to it for a little bit and I stopped and then I looked at him and I was like, “I know that you did this and I know that you killed our mother,”‘ DeRoche recalled in a preview clip for the two-hour special. 

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Opening up: Erin DeRoche (left) and Kati Reynolds (right) spoke to ABC News’ 20/20 about their murder father, Karl Karlsen, for the two-hour special ‘The Sins of the Father’

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Monster: Karlsen, pictured in 2012, killed his first wife, Christina Karlsen, and their son Levi Karlsen, 17 years apart for their life insurance money

‘He looked at me, he smiled like a Cheshire cat and he said, “It’s been 22 years, they haven’t caught me yet and they’re not going to.”‘

DeRoche was six years old and Reynolds was 4 years old when their mother died in a fire in their family home in California in 1991. Their brother was killed 17 years later. 

‘It was just, does this much bad stuff happen to normal people?’ Reynolds explained in her interview with 20/20. 

‘This was our life … it was just one bad thing happening to us after another,’ she recalled. ‘So while it was upsetting, it was all we knew.’

In February, Karlsen, 60, was found guilty of first-degree murder by arson for setting the fire that killed his then-wife and the mother of their three children, Christina.

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Chilling: DeRoche recalled confronting her father about the murders and him telling her: ‘It’s been 22 years, they haven’t caught me yet and they’re not going to’

The arson death was motivated by a £200,000 life insurance policy, which Karlsen had taken out in Christina’s name just 19 days before the fire. 

Karlson was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of his wife. He will start the sentence after serving the 15-years-to-life sentence he received for the murder of his son Levi in New York. 

Levi, who by then was a father of two young children, died in 2008 in an apparent accident when he was just 23.

A truck fell on top of him while he was working underneath it doing repairs at his father’s property.

His death, like his mother’s, was initially ruled an accident.

Police started looking into the case when a family member tipped them off that Karlsen had claimed his son’s £700,000 life insurance payout. Karlsen was the sole beneficiary of Levi’s insurance policy. 

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Justice: In February, Karlsen, 60, was found guilty of first-degree murder by arson for setting the fire that killed his then-wife Christina, pictured with him and their three children 

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Tragedy: Christina, who was 30 at the time, died trapped in the bathroom of the couple’s home after spilled kerosene and a faulty electric light ignited a fire

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Trapped: It was later determined that Christina couldn’t escape through the bathroom window because Karlsen had boarded it up from the outside just days earlier

Karlsen’s second wife, Cindy Best, told 20/20 that she learned about the insurance policy shortly after her stepson’s death.  

‘It ended up being £700,000 because Levi died accidentally. So, that was a kind of a shock but … there was no reason for me to question anything at that time,’ she said. ‘I just trusted my husband and this insurance agent that they were setting it up … for the best of Levi’s daughters.’

Before Levi was murdered, Karlsen’s children long suspected their father was responsible for their mother’s death.

Christina, who was 30 at the time, died trapped in the bathroom of the couple’s home after spilled kerosene and a faulty electric light ignited a fire.

Karlsen was credited with saving his three children by getting them out of the burning home.

He told investigators at the time that he was not able to go back for his wife.

‘My father had said “mommy’s gone to heaven’ … even before the ambulance got there,’ DeRoche recalled.   

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Loss: Christina’s younger sister, Colette Bousson, pictured, told 20/20 that she went to the house the day after the fire and couldn’t understand why no one tried to save her sibling

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Suspicions: Investigators listed Christina’s official cause of death as an accident at the time, but his children long suspected he was responsible for the fire 

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Clean break: Karlsen left California with his three children two weeks after the fire and used the £200,000 life insurance money to buy a home in New York

Christina’s younger sister, Colette Bousson, told 20/20 that she went to the house the day after the fire and couldn’t understand why no one tried to save her sibling.  

‘I told [Karl] that I wanted to see my sister … and he said, “You can’t, she’s a crispy critter,’ she said. ‘That was his term, “a crispy critter” because I think he truly believed that my sister had burned up in the house and that there would be no evidence and he was wrong.’  

It was later determined that Christina couldn’t escape through the bathroom window because Karlsen had boarded it up from the outside just days earlier because it was supposedly broken.

Investigators listed Christina’s official cause of death as an accident.

While Bousson was convinced her Karlsen was to blame, she hid her suspicions to ensure she would be able to have a relationship with her sister’s children.   

Karlsen left California with his three children two weeks after the fire and used the £200,000 life insurance money to buy a home in New York. 

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Family fears: DeRoche, pictured with her aunt and sister, said she and her brother Levi had confronted their father about the death of their mother when they were teenagers

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Flesh and blood: Karlsen killed his 23-year-old son Levi in New York in 2008.

A truck fell on top of him while he was working underneath it doing repairs at his father’s property

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Heartless: Karlsen told police he had been there when the truck fell on his son. He maintained it was an accident but admitted that he left him to die.

Levi is pictured with his two daughters 

DeRoche said she and her brother Levi had confronted their father about the death of their mother when they were teenagers.   

‘Levi and I told our father that we knew that he had murdered our mother,’ she said. ‘Levi and I would talk about [the day of the fire] a lot about what he remembered, about what I remembered and about how things just didn’t add up.’

Karlsen’s second wife began to fear she would become Karlsen’s next victim when their marriage of nearly 20 years started to fall apart.  

‘I would be worth £1.2 million to Karl if I was dead,’ Best told 20/20. ‘I had called my cousin…and told her my fears: “I think Karl might have killed Levi. I’m not sure, but maybe he killed Christina. I’m scared, but I can’t go to law enforcement until we get enough evidence.”‘ 

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Scared: Karlsen’s second wife, Cindy Best, feared she would become Karlsen’s next victim. ‘I would be worth £1.2 million to Karl if I was dead,’ she told 20/20

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Investigation: Best agreed to help investigators by wearing a wire and speaking to her husband about Levi’s death. Karlsen received a 15-years-to-life sentence for his son’s death 

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Reunited: Christina and Levi are buried side-by-side in a Murphys, California, cemetery

Best’s cousin called the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office, and she agreed to help investigators by wearing a wire and speaking to her husband about Levi’s death. 

In the secret wire recordings, Karlsen admitted to removing his truck’s front tires and raising it on a single jack before Levi volunteered to do the repairs.

Woman recalls moment she confronted her father about murdering her mother and brother

Seeing clearly: ‘I saw the monster more than the man,’ DeRoche said of her father

Following a 10-hour interrogation, Karlsen eventually told police he had been there when the truck fell on his son.

He maintained it was an accident but admitted that he left his son to die.

He later pleaded guilty in exchange for 15 years to life in prison.

After Karlsen was charged with his son’s murder, police in California reopened the investigation into his wife’s death, which led to his second conviction. 

Reynolds said she struggles with having ‘the lost connection of having a dad’ after learning he had committed these crimes.   

‘Part of me still wants a relationship. I don’t know what will happen long term,’ she said. 

‘We’re not talking right now, but you know, I don’t know long term what my plan is.’ 

Her sister, however, said she is able to see her father for what he is.   

‘He’s able to manipulate people very easy. That’s who he’s always been.

So for me, I saw the monster more than the man,’ DeRoche said. 

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